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At Least Once in Every Nursing Career: Final ICN Congress Recap

June 4, 2013

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

from Great Ocean Road in Australia

from Great Ocean Road in Australia

Here’s a final recap of my trip last week to the 25th quadrennial congress of the International Council of Nurses (ICN). (My previous posts on this year’s ICN events are here and here; there’s also a podcast of my interview with outgoing ICN president Rosemary Bryant.)

My final few days were busy with sessions as well as a meeting with some members of AJN’s International Advisory Board. Here are some highlights:

  • Nurses and the Nazis. A session on ethics led by Australian nurse Linda Shields examined nursing in Nazi Germany and discussed how nurses might have rationalized participation in Nazi euthanasia and killing programs. She noted that aside from the usual “just following orders” mantra, obedience was tied to housing and livelihood, as well as to the belief that “the health of the volk (community) was more important than the health of the individual.” (The topic brings to mind our 2009 article, “The Third Reich, Nursing, and AJN [abstract only], which made the case that “in the interest of promoting international cooperation and an image of nursing unity, AJN shirked its duty to hold German nurses accountable” for complicity in the Holocaust.)
  • Nursing visibility. Presentations by Canadian nurse union leaders reminded me of home: they talked about campaigns to make what nurses do more visible, noting that if RNs were invisible and their work not valued, they would be at high risk for job cuts. Debbie Forward, president of the Newfoundland–Labrador Nurses Union, talked about “role clutter” and the loss of an RN identity when one couldn’t distinguish RNs from other health care providers, and she described a union campaign—the Clarity Project—to protect and promote the RN role. Sandi Mowatt from the Manitoba Nurses Association, which represents all levels of nurses, talked about initiatives to protect and support all nurses. Ten years ago, she said, only 26% of their members would recommend nursing as a career because of dissatisfaction with workplace policies and wages; today, 72% of nurses in the union would recommend nursing as a good career.
  • Medical tourism keeps growing. Frank Shaffer, CEO of CGFNS, led a session on medical tourism (patients who travel to other countries to seek lower cost medical care and surgery), which has become a big business. According to Shaffer, it’s a $15 billion business, with over 5 million people traveling outside their own countries for medical care in 2011. There is now a Medical Tourism Association, which has begun certification for services and standards. Costa Rica apparently leads the industry—Shaffer reported that it garnered $288 million in revenue from 36,000 international patients. Dentistry and orthopedic procedures are the most popular procedures performed.
  • Leadership transition. At the closing session, Rosemary Bryant, whose watchword for her four-year term was “access” (“people’s access to care, nurses’ access to education and support, and governments’ access to nurses’ policy advice”), turned the leadership of ICN over to the new president, Canadian Judith Shamian. Shamian dedicated her presidency to her deceased nursing school roommate, and announced that she chose “impact” as her watchword, as “it embodies action and outcomes, and reminds us of the impact nurses have on the lives of those they care for.”
Monet exhibit, Melbourne

Monet exhibit, Melbourne

I spent my final two days doing some sightseeing—one day I travelled the Great Ocean Road (along with a New York colleague and a group of Danish nurses) and on the other I visited the National Gallery of Victoria to see the Monet exhibit.

As always, one of the best parts of meetings like this is meeting nurses from all over the world and seeing a bit of another country. In my early nursing years, I really didn’t know about the ICN or that, as a member of the ANA, I could attend the ICN meetings. It’s a great experience and I encourage all nurses to attend at least one international meeting during their careers.

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